U.S. Discretionary Spending

Discretionary spending is the part of the U.S. federal budget that Congress appropriates each year.

For Fiscal Year 2019, President Trump requested $1.305 trillion.

The Constitution gave Congress the authority to raise and spend money for the federal government. The budget process traditionally begins with the president’s budget. It describes his priorities and what the various agencies need for next year’s operations.

The discretionary budget and taxes are the two main tools of discretionary fiscal policy.

The discretionary budget does not include Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. These are part of the mandatory budget. These programs were authorized by previous Acts of Congress. The mandatory budget estimates how much it will cost to provide these benefits.

FY 2019 Budget

On February 9, 2018, Congress approved a two-year discretionary spending bill for Fiscal Years 2018-2019. By doing so, Congress ignored Trump’s budget. The bill outlined spending targets for the base budget which pays for standard department operations. It does not break out spending by department. That will be done next year in detailed appropriations bills.

The Trump administration released its budget on February 12, 2018. It asked for $1.194 trillion for the departments’ base budgets. It did not take into account the spending bill.

It revealed Trump’s priorities for FY 2019.  Congress may not follow it when it appropriates funds for each department next year.

The Congressional spending bill also did not address emergency funding.  It pays for wars, disaster relief, and wildfire suppression. It’s outside of the regular budget appropriation process and is not limited by sequestration.

For FY 2019, Trump asked for $111.4 billion.

Here’s Trump’s budget request by department:

                                        Trump’s FY 2019 Discretionary Budget Request (in Billions)

Department    Budget   Emergency  Total
Dept of Defense     $597.1  $88.9    $686.0
HHS       $69.5    $0.5      $70.0
Education       $59.9      $59.9
VA       $83.1      $83.1
Homeland Security       $46.0    $6.7      $52.7
Energy Dept       $29.2      $29.2
    NNSA       $15.1      $15.1
HUD      $29.2      $29.2
State Dept      $28.3  $12.0      $40.3
NASA      $19.9      $19.9
All Other Agencies    $228.1    $3.3    $133.1
TOTAL  $1,193.6 $111.4 $1,305.0

Discretionary Budget Myth Busters

The media blames the discretionary budget for deficit spending, which has created a huge national debt. That’s a big concern, now that the debt-to-GDP ratio is more than 100 percent. What’s the best way to cut the budget deficit? Here are the five biggest myths:

Myth #1: Just stop sending aid to foreign countries.

Fact: The United States only budgeted $1.9 billion on foreign aid for FY 2019. Cutting that wouldn’t do much to reduce the $985 billion budget deficit.

Myth #2: Defense spending should be increased, even if other programs must be cut.

Fact: Total U.S. military spending for FY 2019 is $886 billion.

It includes more than the Department of Defense budget of $597.1 billion. You must also count the $88.9 billion which pays for the War on Terror, including military operations in Iraq, Syria, and the War in Afghanistan. There are five other agencies that support defense that should also be included. They are the FBI and Cybersecurity, under the Justice Department budget; the National Nuclear Security Administration, under the Energy Department budget; Homeland Security; the Department of Veterans Affairs; and the State Department. They add $181.3 billion to the base budget. They also add $101 billion to the emergency fund. This huge expense must be reduced if the deficit is to be cut in any meaningful way.

Myth #3: If we reduce military spending, the world will think we are weak.

Fact: The U.S. military budget is greater than those of the next 10 largest spenders combined.

The second biggest spender, China, only spent $216 billion. Russia spent $84.5 billion. Our greatest ally, the United Kingdom, spent $60.5 billion. That’s less than 10 percent of what the United States did. Many of our allies are enjoying the benefits of a safer world at our expense. President Trump has asked them to pay more, but continues to increase defense spending.

Myth #4: Military spending creates jobs.

Fact: Defense spending is not the best way to create jobs. A UMass/Amherst study found that $1 billion in military spending created 8,555 jobs. The same amount spent on public transit created 19,795 construction jobs. Spending on public works is the most cost-effective unemployment solution.

Myth #5: The best way to balance the budget is to cut entitlement spending.

Fact: Entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare programs are the biggest portions of the budget. Medicare and Medicaid are growing thanks to higher health care costs. But they were created by Acts of Congress. They can’t be cut without another Act of Congress. The majority of Congress would have to agree to change the laws that enabled them. That won’t happen, because it would be political suicide. Current Social Security and Medicare recipients would vote those Congressmen out of office at the next election.


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